This guest post was written by Robert Wringham, the editor of New Escapologist magazine. New Escapologist is a periodical of funny and practical essays with a focus on springing people from demeaning day jobs.
About a year ago, I quit my job in a government office and left my home in Glasgow. Today I live in Montreal, where my girlfriend and I spend our time writing, cooking, eating, and watching fireworks at the quayside.
I like to tell people that I’ve retired, if only to enjoy their reaction to such a petulant claim from a twenty-seven year old. Alas, this isn’t strictly true. I have enough financial reserves to keep me out of trouble for a few years but not yet enough to last until the typical age of retirement. One thing’s for sure though: I’m not going back to work in an office somewhere. No more clock-watching. No more mindless submission. Never forget the things from which you’re escaping.
I got to the modest circumstances in which I now live by embracing a minimalist mindset, general frugality, sensible money management, a little geo-arbitrage, small entrepreneurial projects and banishing bad faith.
1. Minimalist mindset
I don’t own much. When I read that public-eye minimalist Leo Barbauta owns fewer than fifty things and that his caché of fifty things doesn’t include furniture, I was very surprised. I don’t even own twenty things. And why wouldn’t he include furniture in his list? To me, the main point of minimalism is to jettison liabilities and to maximise mobility: I wouldn’t have been able to stand up one day and move to another country if I had a house full of furniture and computers. One day I’d like to own nothing but two outfits and a laptop, but for now my glut of twenty things will suffice.
More thoughts on minimalism here.
2. General Frugality
To be frugal seems to be my default mindset. Why buy books when they’re provided for free in the library? Why buy cheap (read ‘disposable’) clothes when a couple of well-tailored suits will last forever? Why buy convenience food when it’s a simple and enjoyable exercise to make your own lentil dal or burger patties? Why sit indoors with an expensive cable TV package when reading in the local park is both free and mentally stimulating? Plugging those unnecessary outgoings is as important as earning money. I’ve got my personal monthly outgoings down to approximately C$450 and I don’t think I want for anything.
3. Sensible money management
According to my parents, ‘home economics’ was once taught in British high schools and part of this subject was to convey basic book-keeping. Today, ‘home economics’ has morphed into a weird combination of cookery and woodwork, both of which are underfunded and barely supported by the curriculum. Principles such as ‘your income must be greater than your outgoings’ and ‘cost is a ratio’ are no longer taught, yet it’s vital to know these things. I got lucky in that I was seemingly born with a logical way of looking at things, and my parents were always good at showing me the ins-and-outs of at least middle-class financial knowhow. If you don’t have these things in your favour though, it is still possible and important to self-educate.
Geo-Arbitrage, loosely, is when you generate income in a country with a high-value currency and spend it somewhere with a low-value currency. To the business tycoon, this might mean purchasing goods in China to sell in America or setting up an Indian call centre to serve clients in England. My experience in geo-arbitrage was far more modest: I simply generated money in Scotland (through work) and moved to Canada, where British money goes a little further than the Canadian dollar. The C$450 I spend from savings per month took me only a week to earn in Scotland. I’d advise anyone to do the same thing: work somewhere lucrative for a while and relocate to somewhere vibrant and cheap, while maintaining a minimalist and frugal lifestyle.
5. Small entrepreneurial projects
It is amazing how a couple of small projects capable of generating extra income can help. It is possible to boost those financial reserves before you even get around to serious investment regimes, making what you already have last a little longer. Such a project may be ‘passive income’ or a ‘muse’ or it might be a project done for love (such as self-publishing a book or speaking at events) but which makes a little money as a byproduct. These all help to top up your net worth and make the wealth pool last a little longer.
6. Banishing ‘Bad Faith’
One of the most important steps in plotting an escape is to realise that actions beyond the conventional are possible. It’s possible to get up and go if you want to. You can leave office drudgery or a bad town at the drop of a decision: there is nothing physically keeping you there. ‘Bad Faith’ is when you convince yourself that suffering is inevitable ‘because it’s just what people do’ but this is not the case. Banish bad faith and know that a better life is possible. Exercise the free will with which you were born. It is a gift.
Now that I have significant financial reserves and a decent amount of ‘thinking time’ (one of the worst things about having a day job is that it’s difficult to plot your escape: you’re too busy working, preparing to work, commuting to or from work, or recovering from work), I can work on improving my financial education. My new personal goal is to use my new found time to get the financial reserves working for me. Maybe you’d like to do the same.
Perhaps one day, my system of asceticism and refusal to submit to drudgery will prove hubristic and will blow up in my face like a comedy cigar. If that happens, I’ll have to go back to the day job, tail between my legs. But even in these unlikely circumstances, against which I have taken precautions, I will at least have enjoyed some (fit, healthy, youthful) years of freedom and will have something interesting with which to regale my colleagues at the water cooler.